Monday, December 31, 2018

Private interest; public will.

Private interest; Public will.

1. The Canada Food Guide has been revised toward encouraging consumption of plant vs. animal protein. The beef and dairy industries are protesting, saying this will hurt their industry and their workers’ livelihoods, and argue in their defense that absorption of Vitamin B12 from lentils as opposed to from meat and dairy is a health problem.

2. Albertans are rallying in support of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, urging the federal government to “build that pipe,” its arguments including the substantial blow inflicted on the Alberta economy by current realities in the oil marketplace, the loss of jobs and revenue, and asserting that it is a Canadian, not an Alberta dilemma so the federal government must act.

3. A group of physicians are lobbying for an exception in Medical Assistance in Dying legislation that would allow physicians to refuse giving such assistance (or referring patients to doctors who would be willing) for conscience reasons. (Echoes of an earlier clash of values during woman’s- choice/right-to-life conflicting views.)

4. Although largely settled now, the inclusion of a Christian prayer in a public school classroom was discontinued in response to arguments of church/state separation and a rights argument, i.e. that all faith and non-faith persons need to have a home in public education institutions.

5. Although seemingly absurd, would those who made their living by selling weed in back alleys have a legitimate complaint to make about the legalizing of pot and its negative effect on their livelihoods?

Coming back from three years abroad in voluntary service for my church in 1989, I was experiencing months of frustration trying to find employment again in a saturated public-education marketplace. It never occurred to me to carry a placard insisting that the government solve my dilemma. On the contrary, I accepted that my own choices, my own values, my own ingenuity or lack thereof stood between me and satisfying employment at the moment. I worked hard at refocusing my efforts and landed a job-retraining position with the Alberta government. It turned out to have been a good choice—gave me a rewarding ten years of work, albeit with adjusted expectations.

This observation is not meant to be a reiteration of the “when I was a kid, I had to walk five miles to school and back, uphill both ways” story, nor do I mean it to denigrate the anxiety felt by Albertans with no jobs, doctors with convictions that clash with the public majority, people who believe that public schools in Canada are bound to uphold a Christian viewpoint, and not pot-smuggling/retailing gangs. It’s not about “tsk, tsk, kids these days.”

What it is about is finding the right balance between the application of the majority public will over against the significant individual needs and wishes of minority groups and individuals. We suck at this, some would say; just watch the news with this thought in mind and you’re bound to agree.

Some days I think it’s impossible to find a “smooth politic,” a way of living together that prevents the public will’si invariably raising outrage in one or the other of its scattered pockets and sub cultures. On other days, I compare what we have achieved to what has historically been the case and what we see in other places in the world and I conclude that our national tranquility has found a level that’s probably “as good as it gets.”

Perhaps the problems we see in the news are being viewed dimly, as in a mirror (to channel the Apostle Paul) and we need a refresher course on the basics of governance, particularly on the impulses that led us to believe that everyone should have an equal input into our choice of leadership and that that theoretically leads to “the greatest good for the greatest number.” (And—importantly—when our choice of leadership proves to have been mistaken, we can peacefully show them the door at the next election.) Perhaps its not the basics of our governance that are faulty, but rather the degree of our indignation at and response to choices that respond to the public will, but not to our individual preferences.

It’s always been the case: we as citizens have had to adapt in our individual lives to circumstances not of our choosing or preference. The option to live lives not contingent in every respect upon the public will is safeguarded by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; if you want your child definitely to begin every school day with the Lord’s Prayer, you are allowed to innovate by getting together with the like-minded and establishing a school where that happens. The protest that everyone in the country ought to intone the Lord’s Prayer is misplaced; the very aspect of the public will that defends atheist’s right not to recite the Lord’s Prayer guarantees another individual’s right to do so. How could it do better than that?

Are the Alberta protests really cries of lament more than the expressed indignation of a people wronged? Is it the reality that adding another fossil-fuel pipeline is a rearranging of the deck chairs on a sinking ship and the sorrow that accompanies such a doomed task? Is the anger and frustration being directed at the federal government because no other “distant” cause comes to mind and self-blame is not on? Is Alberta in a retool and innovate mode as it will undoubtedly have to be?

And you ranch and dairy corporations and individuals, do you really expect governments to protect the status quo indefinitely in a rapidly changing world where the very environment is at stake, where healthcare consumes the greatest portion of tax dollars? Are you really determined to defy the public will in this, to refuse the challenges of innovation, of re-tooling, of redirecting what you do and the way you do it? Are you planning to force-feed the public your overstock of product if necessary?

Doctors of conscience, have you considered your position as individuals and as a group if the national public will determines that a physician acts in the expressed interests of patients from birth through death, or forfeits his/her license to practice? Is there any possibility of medicine going the route of the private school or home schooling in order to function effectively and legally as an enclave of dissenting values? Are you planning for that likely eventuality?

And you back-alley drug pushers, have you considered getting a job??

The public will in a democracy like ours will always feel a bit like an insensitive juggernaut, especially if you’re part of a minority on substantial issues. At the same time, Canada has worked hard at making it possible for minorities to succeed economically and to share basic human rights . . . if not always successfully. Perhaps it’s time we all put down our placards and began dialogues, took civics classes and generally, determined how we live with our realities without abusing and threatening each other.

Substituting wherever possible, ingenuity for indignation.




iBy “public will,” I mean as expressed in the democratically elected leadership and the legislation and action coming out of that leadership. In Canada today, there is no other legitimate definition of “public will.”

Monday, December 17, 2018

"Truths" about climate change - take your pick!

THE TREE: Environmental Crime Fighter Extraordinaire


“In a report released Thursday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says there is general consensus in Canada that something needs to be done about climate change, and the debate should not be about if, but how that happens.

“Aaron Henry, the chamber’s director of natural resources and environmental policy, said the businesses that make up its membership agree a carbon price is the most efficient way to do it.

“'Our members are very much in favour of it,' he said. 'They’re happy to do this. We applaud the Canadian government’s direction on this.'”
*****

Some of the population will applaud the Chamber's stance, some will reject it. Others will be uncertain what to think and some will take a stand without knowing the science. Some will see a sinister motive in the Chamber's declaration. There's a lot of “truth” around about climate change, and if you haven't adopted a “truth” yet, a few are listed here to help you choose.
Pick your truth:

  1. Climate change is driven by nature's cycles and trying to influence it is pointless; we just need to adjust to some changes and that's no big problem.
  2. Burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate changes that will have disastrous global consequences and Canada is obligated to reduce the use of fossil fuels as an energy source as much and as quickly as possible.
  3. Since Canada contributes less than 2% of the worldwide emissions contributing to climate change, actions that cost our economy make no sense.
  4. A prosperous Canada is in a position to be a leader in green technology and in devising ways to reduce fossil fuel dependency; it's our country's obligation to global health and safety to show the way. It's also a huge economic opportunity.
  5. Switching to clean energy doesn't cost jobs, it just shifts them to other ventures and venues. Canada is in a position to show how this can be done.
  6. The environmental movement is little more than a conspiracy to boost the support for globalism and liberal policies.
  7. Even if climate change's disastrous effects were real and predictable, we'll never get people to buy into change that affects their living standard. It's hopeless, so forget it.
  8. The most effective way to persuade people to change their habits is to tax what they should not do and reward what they should.
  9. If you give people and corporations the facts, they will change their habits on their own, even if it costs them something.
  10. Corporations run everything, including the government and they manage to turn every argument into a scare about “hurting the economy, jobs.”
  11. Fighting climate change and growing the economy can be done simultaneously.
  12. What the Chamber said (see above).
  13. I agree with Trudeau who thinks a carbon tax is the best way to go, that “Conservative politicians . . . still think pollution should be free"
  14. I agree with what Trump tweeted: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS - Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
  15. I agree with what Scheer said, that Trudeau's carbon tax is just an election gimmick.
  16. What-EV-er.




Friday, November 16, 2018

Who can be healed . . . and how?

Winter 2008, the North Saskatchewan at Shekinah  

Details of the kidnapping, rape and murder of young Tori Stafford by Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic in April of 2009 were established in trials. Both were sentenced to life in prison for a crime so unspeakable that these details had to be delivered in euphemisms to juries and the public. It's hard to imagine any crime more debased and cruel than theirs.

It's not surprising that McClintic's transfer to a healing lodge in Saskatchewan would raise the angry reaction that it did. In a world where nothing can be imagined that would satisfy the standard of “an eye for an eye” in such a case as Stafford's murder, it was an easy jump for many to see the transfer as the diminishing of a sentence that was already far more lenient than they would have found just and appropriate.

The loud, indignant protests came from all sides up to and including the Parliament of Canada. If there were voices in defense of McClintic's transfer, I didn't hear them. If there were voices defending Justice Canada's competence in the appropriate placement of convicts, I didn't hear them either. Two problems with this stand out: the appeal to the government to reverse the decision of Justice Canada sets a dangerous precedent, particularly in that politicians are not present in the deliberations leading to any placement of a convict and so are most likely to act out of political expedience when pressed. Secondly, it undermines confidence in justice personnel trained and experienced in the difficult decisions that go into prisoner placement.

But then, it's not a new phenomenon: we appoint the best people we have to administer difficult portfolios and then we second-guess, berate and undermine them out of our ignorance, our uninformed perceptions. It's a small step toward anarchy, toward populism.

Taken all together, it reinforces the fact that our collective propensity is to see criminal and social justice to be primarily retributive. It's an “eye for an eye” view that is arguably incompatible with New Testament ethics.i Experience shows us that revenge justice doesn't act as a deterrent, that it doesn't rehabilitate offenders and that it does nothing for the victims of crime except providing them with whatever comfort can be taken from knowing that the perpetrators of a crime are suffering as they have caused others to suffer.

Whereas the overarching theme of Christian faith is for restoration, it's taken prisoner-visitation programs, Circles of Support and Accountability and the indigenous healing lodges to foster the restoration, rehabilitation option in the justice system. If restoration were really significant in our justice system overall, every jail, every penitentiary would be a healing lodge. This doesn't mean that “soft on crime” should govern our justice system; the onus to give up freedom for a period commensurate with the crime and the obligation to participate fully in whatever is prescribed so that a convict comes out of his/her sentence as a decent, law-abiding human being, these standards alone should govern release.

Unfortunately, the concept of restorative justice and the reputation of the healing lodge as an incarceration alternative have both taken a black eye through the events surrounding the McClintic transfer. There is no possibility that Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic can ever make adequate reparation for the horrible crime they committed, no matter how long, how arduous the retributive punishment. What little they might someday contribute to society as reparation can only be counted on if sentencing is tailored to ensure that they are finally released as repentant, nonthreatening, contributing members of society.

Or do we really believe that some humans are irredeemable? And if so, are we ready to judge which are and which aren't? 

iMatthew 5 is often cited as a guide to ethics surrounding matters of the Christian response to wrongdoers, although it is obviously personal as opposed to corporate in intent. Anabaptist, Quaker and other denominations have based their stance against violence and retribution on the life and witness of Christ more generally. Philosophically, the efficacy of pacifism and non-violence can be linked to discussions of restorative vs. retributive justice in any number of ways, particularly as regards the objective of social peace. For a useful primer, click here.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Sorting people politically 101

. . . short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved and were loved . . ..
If you click HERE, the website of Conservative Move will open for you. Here you'll find help if you're fed up with living in a progressive/Democratic area and want to move to a more conservative/Republican state to be with people who think like you. It's been called “sorting,” a movement that homogenizes communities, thereby providing peace from the stress of conflicting opinions, ideals. (Naturally, real estate opportunities have presented themselves as the website attests.)

“Sorting” after this fashion isn't new to us. Refugees tend to be attracted to places in a receiving country where language and culture are familiar; faith communities splinter into pools of theologically-homogenous groupings; suburbs evolve into enclaves of like-mannered; similar-stratum populations; cliques and gangs arise wherever people from a mix of demographics occupy the same space: schools, neighbourhoods, etc.

A caution being raised is that the chasm opening up between progressive and conservative elements can only become more and more pronounced as a result of people hearing only their preferred point of view day after day.

Can a democracy survive such deliberate, escalating segregation of opinion. Will it function if there's no longer the possibility of genuine, thoughtful debate? What will governance look like in future if politics is expressed primarily in emotional, angry rallies and/or placard-waving demonstrations?

In his essay, “Freedom as a Characteristic of Man in a Democratic Society”1 American philosopher J.W. Miller writes “Man is indeed a social animal, but it would, I believe, be a mistake to interpret his primary sociability as political. When that mistake gets made, there is nothing for it but to treat man as an object, and then he is devoured by the managers who, one hears, know best how to establish community.” Miller sees functioning democracy as having no future where citizens give up their independent, self-directed persona or where truth is seen to be static and immutable rather than evolving and dynamic. “Sorting,” in Miller's scenario, then, would be tantamount to handing one's autonomy over to a manager whose version of reality will be lived out as an uncontested blueprint for whatever happiness is wanted.

The “mistake” Miller is pointing out has been demonstrated so often historically that it shouldn't come as an epiphany today. When churches, for instance, sort themselves into liberal or conservative, homogenous groups, they routinely skew the gospel in a direction that will justify the leaning that precipitated a split. Furthermore, the real community that once was—the non-political, social one—generally shatters into pieces paralleling the ideological disagreements. Friends, neighbours become dispensable. Conversation, let alone dialogue, difficult at best.

Political sorting that disrupts basic, humanitarian sociability is something democracy simply can't afford. When we begin to hear ourselves resorting to personal-attack mode to bolster our ideological allegiances, we should sense that we are hacking at the very foundation and meaning of democracy itself, a form of governance that we had hoped would ensure peace and cooperation, that would end and then prevent tyranny, that would preserve the dignity and independence of the individual, that would provide justice and fairness for all.

It may be that in America, the democracy canoe has already gone over the waterfall.

1In Miller, John William, The Paradox of Cause & Other Essays. New York: W.W. Norton. 1978

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Please pass the gravy


The nutritional key to better health doesn't lie in a great meal, but in a consistently good diet.

      Through an abundance of governmental and non-governmental agencies, our nation extends food, clothing and shelter to persons in desperation world-wide. As individuals, we support local causes in relief of the less fortunate. It's never enough, of course, and these actions seldom, if ever, “cure” whatever problems have put populations in such need that dependence on the charity of neighbours is their only hope.
      Of course, emergency charitable giving is essential. Foreign aid, food banks, soup kitchens, Christmas hampers, emergency shelters are expressions of our compassion and generosity while bringing at least some comfort to people in dire straits.
      There are, however, bad, indifferent and better ways to respond to recognized need. As the opening sentence says, it's “diet” that needs to be secured more than a dinner provided for, for instance, a struggling family. A useful analogy might lie in the economic sphere: it's not the cash you have today that matters; it's cash flow that secures sufficiency.
      All of which has led some charities to rethink their approaches. The family that frequents a food bank for whatever reason is not short of food, per se; it's short of the means to buy food. Our stores are overflowing with great food. The food bank—if it only provides groceries in a regulated manner to persons passing (failing?) a means test—is a good thing as an emergency measure and as a way of mitigating wastage, but the need on a deeper level is for a change in food and wealth policies that would render the need for handouts obsolete.
      I won't save the teeth of a poor family's children by giving them a tube of toothpaste—unless I'm prepared to provide a new tube every week. A Christmas Hamper can be a real treat, but if there's not a week-after-Christmas hamper and a two-weeks-after-Christmas hamper, what exactly is it we're doing besides stroking our own generosity-ego and paying for one meal?
      I'm perplexed that in a country where universal health care is equally distributed to everyone regardless of means, those amenities that equate to healthy “diet” (solid, comprehensive education; abundant healthy food; comfortable shelter; community leisure infrastructure; etc.) are not. Healthcare as we deliver it is remedial; it exists to correct health breakdown, much of which would be cheaper to prevent than to remediate.
      Yes, I know. Socialism. That pariah to the part of the population that thinks the road to happiness relies on its naïve definition of personal independence and liberty at all costs—and the devil take the hindmost. But the personal independence impulse is selective: it rails against perceived infringements on privacy and personal freedom but assumes entitlement to a whole gamut of things already provided under the social(ist) contract, like roads, schools, airports, public transit, child benefits, old age pensions, employment insurance, water, sewer, parks, swimming pools, etc., etc., etc. Preferably without paying taxes.
      Successful, sustainable economies are generally mixed economies. They prosper through private and public entrepreneurship and controlled capitalism in partnership with social democracy. To campaign for either one over the other is a fool's errand that results in division, wasted potential, and—at it's worst—an ungovernable state in which a negotiated directions become practically impossible to achieve. 
     A culture of winners and losers. Life as a zero-sum game.
      Which brings me back to the beginning of this diatribe. Generosity, charity, Christian obligation to “feed the hungry, etc.” absolutely must get political. To put our efforts into patching up what our failed politics has torn just won't get us to a better place. Reactionary political policies must be rooted out of our institutions of power, we just can't afford to have every social advance torn down by neoliberalism. The means to doing that lies in the ballot box and the voice God gave us to advocate for policies that produce justice for everyone.
      Canada has the resources, the skills and expertise to make of itself a country where every person lives in a safe, comfortable shelter, eats three nutritious meals a day, has access to quality liberal education, is able to enjoy sports, arts, culture and community amenities, and is near enough to good healthcare when its needed.
      If I don't believe we can ever make that happen, and if that makes me apathetic, I'm part of the problem. 

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” --Dom Helder.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Canadian Culture . . . really?

Abandoned Ranch House in Grasslands National Park
WE are people of culture. WE Canadians, that is, but our cultural vessel is fragile and must be packed in bubble wrap to protect it from Americans who would rather see us overwhelmed with their culture. Americans know better than anyone where a buck can be made, and how to make it.

If we're going to agree to an updated NAFTA trade agreement, it will not include the right for the American “cultural industry” to overrun our country, supplant our culture, bury us in Hollywood schlock. We won't stand for it, and so we'll maintain the right in any agreement to subsidize our tiny “cultural industries” like the CBC, NFB, authors & publishers, poets, musicians, recording companies, etc., etc., to whatever degree it takes to make “made in Canada” prosper.

Ah, culture. So hard to define but in its most basic sense, it's at least a combination of some values, some traditions, some sensibilities, some practices, some worldview that Canadians share. It's got to be more significant than maple syrup or hockey, doesn't it? and it must be uniquely Canadian or there can be no “Canadian culture.” If a Swede, or a Russian, or an Afghani cuts us, we've got to bleed Canadian—at least enough for him to say, “Jag ser att du är kanadensisk!”

And then there are our official policies of multiculturalism and bilingualism, each proclaiming that we're not, nor do we aspire to be, a cultural monolith. For there to be a convincing argument for the existence of a Canadian culture, there needs to be a layer of approximate unanimity (on at least some values, traditions, sensibilities, practices) that rides above French Canadianism, Sikhism, Islamism, above Baptists, Catholics, Inuit, Crees, Filipinos that is held in common by the multi-cultures of Canada. Perhaps there is. Perhaps that something draws people to Canada's shores. Perhaps the fact that we all stand to sing O Canada at hockey games gives evidence that there is a Canadian Culture worthy of preserving, elusive as it may seem from time to time.

The Stanley Cup is named for a Canadian and originated in Canada. The fact that no Canadian hockey team can even come close to possessing it may be a more significant cultural marker of the future than Lord Stanley's legacy. Even when we punch well above our weight, there's always someone out there who can deck us at will.

Or if Shitt's Creek or Dragon's Den or endless pipeline debating became the standard metaphors for Canadian Culture, I think I'd move to Iceland.

We live in a culture-destroying age. Culture has the power to unite people in common purpose, unite people in celebration, in work, in play. Culture creates a home where people feel they belong, and belonging is one of the key components of mental health and well-being. We dare not let conscious, intelligent culture-building be displaced by mob mentality; a mob is not a culture; a mob masquerades as a culture united by rage and fear rather than by hope and generosity of spirit.

It could happen to us, and it will unless the prophetic voices among us break their silence.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What's your tribe?



Various authors have characterized the current political divisions in the West as an emerging tribalism. I'm sure we all have some image in our minds when tribes are spoken of, possibly of men with black and white paint on their faces holding spears and facing men with green and orange paint on their faces holding spears. They're likely dark-skinned. A common dictionary definition of tribe is: any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.”

          I have a feeling that what today's commentators mean when talking about tribalism is something else. Amy Chua wrote in Atlantic, "At its most basic, tribalism describes the human instinct to want to belong to a group of people who are like you."
         Tribalism probably does little harm when we're talking about clubs, church congregations or sororities and fraternities. The development of political tribalism, though, can create frightening results, particularly when components of racial or ethnic prejudices attach themselves to a political tribe.

          What’s true doesn’t depend on facts in a doctrinaire political tribe. Settling a matter can come to depend most on who raises the issue and the numbers in the tribe, facts can be submerged under painted-face, spear rattling.

           That’s a kind of harsh view of the concern being expressed in these days of reactionary politics in the USA, Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

           There was a time when tribal organization was necessary and dominated the social/political makeup of entire continents. Everyone had a group to which to belong, and although the borders occupied by that group might be fluid and indefinite, the belonging part was not in question. It’s not easy for us to visualize—now that we are a number of generations into the “nation state,” and “national citizenship” way of organizing socially/politically—how a people-hood without a defined geographic territory could even exist. (It's helpful to think this through using the current Israel/Palestine standoff as a test case.)

           What defined traditional tribal memberships generally were language, kinship, folkways and customs. And as tribes grew and evolved, physical characteristics also evolved and came to exhibit points of differentiation: who appeared to be alien and who appeared to be kin. People began to look Cree or Ojibwa, Jewish or Roman, Chinese or Japanese, Aryan or Mediterranean. In practice, tribalism defined right and wrong, bad and good: my tribe is good, others are suspect or bad. My kin are friends, other tribes are potential enemies. Conventional tribal wisdom was the glue that kept a tribe united enough to survive in a harsh world.

           The demise of kinship tribalism and the re-patterning of populations into nation state organizations has been going on for only a few centuries really. Canada as a nation state went through a few centuries of redefinition until it declared itself a nation state in 1867, after which parcels were added until it became one political entity as we see it on maps today. Territory is fundamental to the nation state and indigenous tribes that were not bound by territory but by kinship, language and customs were confined to reserve areas by treaty or by suasion—in North and Central America and Australia/New Zealand particularly. Although not spoken of in those terms, people living under kinship tribal consciousness had to be separated out; old patterns couldn’t co-exist with land ownership and title as the nation state practices it.



“Corn is the most sacred food in Maskoke society, a gift for which profound sacrificial thanks is given during the annual ceremonies called Posketv (Green Corn Dance) that renew our relationships to the natural world. Since this sacred food was left to the People by a woman, the descendant Maskoke caretakers of this crop are women. [...] Regrettably, settler colonialism deeply severed this sacred connection, as government appointed Indian agents removed women from the fields and put them in homes to fulfill domesticated roles modeled by European women. […] Today, 39% of our women experience domestic violence.” (Marcus Briggs-Cloud in “Return to the Good” in Heinrichs, Steve, ed. Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization. Winnipeg: Mennonite Church Canada, 2018)



It seems always to be on the margins of things that chaos and conflict find a home. The old adage, “Good fences make good neighbours,” expresses the thought that we can only get along if our borders are clearly defined, respected. We still find ourselves living in the chaotic margin between tribal consciousness and nation state politics, though, a fact that becomes clearer as we look at the present in light of the past.

          Do you feel yourself to be part of a group bound by kinship, custom, folkways and/or religion? A tribe, in other words? I do and I don’t. I’m a “Mennonite,” and when I think of where in the tribal/nation state border world I live, that reality continues, although diminished by time. A test of the strength of such a bond might be in a declaration of loyalty that exceeds other loyalties: is it my Mennonite tribal consciousness or my Canadian citizenship to which I go when ethical judgments are needed, when a choice is required? Clearly, I live in an age where tribal sensitivity isn’t exclusive; my “tribe” is coming undone over questions that appear to pit nation-state values against tribal values. Words from T.S. Eliot’s The Second Coming are haunting in such a time: “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere chaos is loosed upon the world.” Written about World War I, the words point to the Nation-state/tribal border quarrels that have been at the centre of all wars in recent history. It’s this chaotic margin in small or gigantic manifestations that pits persons against persons, nation-states against tribal consciousness.

          Seems to me that the more the world becomes a melting pot of intermingling people carrying vestiges of tribal consciousness, the greater the longing for a lost tribal community becomes. Nation-states are such mechanical, impersonal entities, unable even in their finest moments to satisfy the craving for kinship, cultural community. We see it in the formation of gangs of all kinds, in the multi-culturalism drive in Canada whereby kinship tribes are encouraged to nourish their customs and folkways as they evolve into citizens, in the rise of new, religious tribes while traditional tribes slide toward disintegration. The “church on every corner” syndrome. Probably the greatest anxiety of our age is that in the renewal and rise of tribalisms, the structures of nation-state governance will be torn down in the melee of competing, irreconcilable factions and we will succumb to chaos.

          Political parties in Canada today act like loosely-bound tribes, bound not around kinship so much as around ideologies and policies, like-mindedness and loyalties, and that's the really scary part of what's going on today. If at some future time we should follow the US into an ever-increasing political tribalism, we will need to face squarely the question of our nationhood as a guarantor of the best possible life for all who reside in this sea to sea to sea piece of the earth. There’s enough of tribalism evident in our current reality to make clear that we are unable to negotiate best ways forward, that hardened, partisan views prevent the development of a cooperative polity. The party-system of democratic governance encourages the conflict between tribalism and the peaceful, commonwealth nation-state that democracy promised to provide.



The election of Trump as US President and Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario had one glaring characteristic in common; both concluded that political-tribalism was strong enough to give them a win without presenting comprehensive platforms. And so their campaigns focused on denigrating the opposition, repeating grievances (real or invented) and not much else. They were right—the pundits are right—political tribalism in North America is now a fact and elections fought on thoughtful ideas may henceforth characterize losers.



Our national government has determined that taxing carbon is the way we will go as a measure toward combating climate change. Some provincial governments are balking at this and going as far as to tell us that taxing carbon does no good. Our national government has decided that a pipeline needs to be built in the national economic interest; a contingent of the population believes it to be a bad idea and will seek to obstruct it in every possible way. The indication is strong that support for opposing viewpoints is largely based on political-tribal bonding as opposed to flexible cooperation in finding solutions to emerging issues. Liberal bad, Conservative good, NDP irrelevant kind of mentality. Or vice-vice versa. Jobs good, environment a hoax. Chaos at the borders of human, social evolution. Wasted ability. Wasted energy. My tribe is always right. Your tribe is wrong. From there it’s not a giant leap to, “if you belong to that tribe, I know exactly what you are.”

         Why we must of necessity belong to any tribe in this age is a very good question. I suspect the answer is not political, but biological. We can find persons who seem to be indifferent to inter-tribal jousting, who smile to watch the quarreling. We see thoughtful people who are able to understand what it is that’s actually going on and are therefore able to be objective. Do these exceptions simply prove the rule?

          When we come to think of chaos at the margins, we’re talking about transition stages in evolution: economic, social, political, biological. I’ve been making the point that margins between the status quo before a transition and after, are prone to undergo the chaos of readjustment. The second point I’d make in this regard is that the speed and scope of a transition is relevant to the degree of chaos. Seen in this light, it’s amazing that the human race has survived the recent past.

           It took until 1804 for world population to reach 1 billion, a time lapse of arguably 10 billion years. Two billion was achieved by 1927, a mere 123 years later and the third billion by 1960, or in 33 years.i Since 1960, the population has risen to ca. 7.5 billion.ii The speed at which the jostling for space and resources emerged surely made change in almost everything mandatory, from family structures to urban structures to agricultural practice to right to territory. That we should have made mistakes and bad guesses (consider the folly of Stalinist “collectivism,” for instance, or the entire practice of colonization) while attempting to regularize social/political arrangements seems totally inevitable; Chaos at the margins exacerbated by the speed and depth of the transition.

          A more immediate case in point involves the unbelievable speed and depth at which communication technology has erupted. I can pick up my smart phone and engage in a face-to-face conversation with my daughter in Panama at any time; fifty years ago, airmail letters would have been the available “technology” and face-to-face out of the question. Our regularization of world communicationsystems has fallen prey to chaos at the margins. An acknowledgment of our current hacking woes, social media “news,” sexting and Twitter malfeasance must surely lead us to this conclusion, as if the theft of our privacy by providers weren't bad enough.

          As I write this, men, particularly, are being exposed daily for harassment and/or sexual assault. Our biology evolved over much time into the sexual morass of today. Copulation urges once served to ensure species survival; that need no longer exists with the same survival immediacy, but the urges linger on as if they did. To determine that for our time, copulation is for pleasure and not necessarily for procreation is not adjustment enough. The chaos on this margin should be proof enough of that. The struggle toward some order, some understanding of what the future requires of us in the area of sexuality is exemplified in the women’s equality struggle, in the “Me Too” movement and in feminism generally. And still, we have tribes forming whose goal is to stymy progress on this front.

          The reality of tribes together making up the population of a nation gives rise to unique tensions. Consider the Canadian picture: An Indigenous tribe (made up of many similar, but different, sub-tribes), a European tribe (also made up of similar, but different, sub-tribes), late-comer African, Middle-Eastern, Philippine, Latin American, etc. vestiges of tribes. Unable to govern our joint nationhood in compliance with the values of any one tribe, a way must be found to legislate and organize under the certainty that vestigial tribal values of many stripes must be brought along with what is almost always a compromise position. No mean feat. The compromises are never good enough for everyone: the anti-abortion tribe remains vocal and persistent even though the issue has been largely—and permanently?—settled at the nation level.

          Canada has chosen a national polity to ease the transition at the border. Our multiculturalism policies are attempts at expanding the time newcomers have to adjust, to ease the stresses at the most critical margins. Compared to Germany where anti-immigrant, anti-refugee demonstrations are numerous and violent at times, we could conclude that Canada has hit a harmonious chord. But young as we are as a country, we have a substantial population for whom a nationalistic tribalism trumps policies of diversity, who judge “Canadianess” by the values and mores with which they've lived for generations, the most significant component being a consciousness of Canada as a “European” country, not African, American, Asian, or Middle-Eastern, and that immigrating people of colour threaten the essence of their current, tribalized worldview.

          So what's the solution? How can we counter these waves of chauvinistic, misguided fervour and rage? I wish I knew, but I suspect that the principle of desegregation must find new ways to bring people into relationships, to discourage the concentration of like-mindedness into geographical ghettos. The tendency to imagine all sorts of negatives about people we don't really know is strong. I also think that old “whigs and tories” style of party system has to be modified through a more representative system of election. Most importantly, the training of our young people in logic, reasoning, debating skills must be returned to the centre of our curricula; the inability to cooperatively find a course of action when needed often comes down to a failure in the ability to identify and collect relevant facts, discard irrelevant ones and debate amicably the merits and demerits of suggested responses. The abysmal level of dialogue in a state that's half a nation and half tribal is appalling enough to make even children weep.

          The conservative, orthodox mind tends to reason convergently and herein lies the making of a pathway toward tribalism. Convergent views of humanity begin with categories, categories assumed from a little or a great deal of knowledge or borrowed and adopted through the grapevine of like-mindedness. The convergence happens in the process of assigning persons to a category and once assigned, assuming that the person bears all the characteristics belonging to the category. Denominational names name categories; race names name categories; places of origin become categories. After three years working and traveling in Europe, living in Germany, I chatted with a brother-in-law about the experience, except that it wasn't really a chat but rather him reeling off the character of Germans he'd never met from a store of tidbits in his “German category.” Not surprisingly, he lived in the “born again” category.


           For the categorization of people to lead to its tribal extreme, there needs to be a groundswell of voices saying the same things. The central characteristic of tribalism, after all, is the need to be with like-minded people and as the numbers singing from the same hymnbook swells, confidence in the rightness of the position grows, the emotion of being one-with-many kicks in and the tribal dance is on. I'm amazed at how every viewpoint that isn't conservative in America has been assigned to the Liberal category, how much hatred is slung at the Libs on social and tribal media, all with no regard to the fact that there exists a vast range in liberalism that defies such a label. But that's how tribes behave.

           Donald Trump is not so much a president as he is a tribal chieftain. It's evident in the tribal rallies he loves, where opportunity is given to bathe the chief in adoration. His rude, crude denigration of leaders who govern democratically (Trudeau, May, for instance) and his praise for leaders who govern autocratically (Putin, Kim, for instance) is indicative of his “tribal chieftain,” strong man inclinations.

          Heaven help us if the trend prospers. Political tribalism and democracy are incompatible and those of us who see democratic structures as safeguards of the rights of all citizens had better get busy. It CAN happen here. It IS happening here.



(Sinclair Lewis' satire, It Can't Happen Here is reviewed by me at: http://readwit.blogspot.com/2017/01/sinclair-lewis-it-cant-happen-hereimage.html)







i United Nations Secretariat, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, The World At Six Billion (1999), p. 8.


iihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_estimates